Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lyell Canyon, Donahue Pass, Ansel Adams Wilderness

After TRT, I wanted to switch gears and run/explore more in places that races don't go.  I also wanted to race less to get rid of the time pressure, but still cover ultra distances.  Because of good timing with a work trip, I was able to put together a long mountain run pretty quickly.  I went with this route because it's well traveled and has a flat start/finish in case something didn't go well.  I was trying a number of new things on this run, many for the first time (trekking poles, dealing with a water filter, carrying significantly more weight, testing an emergency beacon, and going 2000 feet higher in altitude than I have previously on a run, past 11,000 feet).

I beat myself up, in a great way.  I kept a hard effort until the return to the valley floor, but my legs were dead by then.  I speed hiked it back in, by conscious choice rather than out of necessity, since I wanted to be able to walk the next day.  

Lyell Canyon is fairly flat, but at over 8000 feet.  There were many backpackers waking up as I jogged up the valley.  

At the head of the valley, there's a fairly abrupt change to rather technical trail that transitions from rock and dirt into rock steps and rock pieces and more strewn-about pieces of rock, over the next 1000 feet of climbing.  There's a great valley here with a small mountain lake/pond that's fed by the Lyell glacier.  

Then it's more climbing up Donahue pass, in which you encounter more rock stairs, even more rock pieces, and rubble and stuff that all kind of defines the trail.  I didn't actually run much up here, given the terrain and altitude.  

At the pass, at 11,000 feet, there's an abrupt change of views as you enter Ansel Adams wilderness.  

Dropping through more rock for a few miles, things change into the more rock-and-pool-with-mountain-backdrop environment we associate with photography from the area.  

I turned around at the Marie Lakes trail, and had a few fun conversations during breaks on the way back, as I was the only runner out for the day that I'm aware of, and I was now passing many backpackers for the second time.  Some of whom were out for a week to cover the distance I did in a day.

A rather unintimidated marmot at Donahue pass.

Mt Lyell again, and the valley below it, later in the day on the return.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vineman 140.6 Relay

July 2015, edited later.

That was hot.  And hilly.  Not the big climbs I train for, but a never-ended slow grind of smaller hills that wear you down again and again and again.

Repeat offender for the cutest finisher award.

I ran the marathon portion of the Vineman 140.6 triathlon as part of a relay team, and it was hot.  I went out at my target pace, about 8:30 mpm, which would normally be sustainable.  I quickly realized it wasn’t, and near mile four, I decided that it would no longer a race for time, but a challenge to make a consistent effort with a strong finish.

The course is a triple out-and-back on a grid of rural roads emanating from Windsor high school.  The start was surprisingly fun, because while you can predict a swimmer’s time to within 10 minutes, a cyclists time can be off by an hour or more, either way.  So I warmed up to be ready to go an hour before his earliest expected time, and then hurried up and waited.  In the hot sun in the middle of the afternoon.  

I had woken up early to watch the swim and the swim-to-bike transition.  This race is so damn long that I then went about my day, having lunch, playing with the kid, etc, etc, until it was time to get out the door a second time.  

Back to mile 4.  I flipped my GPS watch to the heart rate display and decided to ignore everything else and focus on maintaining a HR zone, since it’s one thing that doesn’t lie about how hard you’re working.  It’s very easy for me to go too fast in heat and to quickly overheat/get sick/get tired/crash and burn/wait/hope/recover/etc/etc.  Like the middle portion of Lake Sonoma this spring.  I found myself running about 75% of the time and speed walking about 25% of the time to keep things under control, and I went with an ice bandana on the neck, which worked amazingly well at keeping me cool.

While the race was hot, it had this weird mix of dry rural farm road and pretty wine country vistas in the distance.  Most everyone was slogging.  Granted, I hadn’t biked over 100 miles, unlike a lot of the field.  At mile 22, SS passed by on the way out as I was headed in, wrapping up his full 140.6.

At mile 22 I let my target HR creep up one beat per mile and let it go completely in the last half mile, speeding up whenever I passed some landmark that I was deciding on the fly.  RR and RN joined in as I came in to the finish, and we ended up second in our relay division at 12:50 overall.  I ran 4:53ish, which I did’t even bother to check until two days later, since I was quite happy with how I executed this race and how well the finish went.  Even being a 140.6, I was surprised at how few sub-4-hour finishers there were.

The front of a 2.4 mile swim is eerily quiet.

Things done well:
  • Ice bandana
  • Using a target heart rate to maintain pace
  • Strict management of pace increases toward the end let me finish strong, and feeling rather well over the next few days, considering I ran an ultra and a marathon in a week.   

Things to improve:
  • Walk into hot races with an ice/HR management plan right from the beginning.  I had to learn this stuff as I went, but fortunately, I found a comfortable place pretty quickly.
  • Heat training?
  • Put a jacket in the finish line bag, even it's in the 80s during the race.

Tahoe Rim Trail 55k

July 2015, written a month later.

My race reports are too long.  I'm not getting motivated enough or finding the time to edit them.  Let's make this easier.

The TRT 55k/50m/100m is one of the bigger ultras within driving distance, and it caught my attention for simply being, in part, on the Tahoe Rim Trail, which is an important place for me.  I wanted to run a race at altitude this year, and after a lot of lottery luck, I was in for this.  I wanted to run the 50 mile course, but stuck with the 55k in case altitude didn't pan out well.

Altitude affected me, but I was fine.  What hit me unexpectedly was a muscle cramp on the steep descent of the red house loop that never really let up, and I ended up speed hiking the last 14ish miles to avoid having it turn to anything worse, as it was pretty bad.  But it was the TRT, so there was no way I was going to quit, I just stopped running for time and enjoyed the rest of the course.

My version of the laid-out-gear photo.  A pile of everything.  And sorry, that number has been changed.

And another pile of stuff to carry to the car.

Spooner Lake, the start, before dawn.


The post-Hobart climb.  Lake Marlett above Lake Tahoe.

More of Lake Marlett

Above 8000 ft.

Somewhere before Tunnel Creek, where I stopped taking photos.  Not that this was a smart decision, Snow Peak was gorgeous.
I finished in some absurd about of time, over 9 hours, but I was still nowhere near the back of the pack.
Things done well

  • Managing speed at altitude using heart rate worked well.  Until I didn't need to try to limit it.  It especially worked well when it got really warm coming out of Red House.
  • Deciding to power hike the way in after the muscle cramp.  I lost a lot of time, but it made for a much more enjoyable day.
  • Limiting myself to a shorter distance than I really wanted to run to better handle everything that would be new for the first time running ultra-distance in the Sierras.

Things to improve

  • Take a longer no-run break after a race to really work out mobility issues.  I blame Escape from Alcatraz for causing the muscle tightness that led to the cramp.
  • Take more photos on Snow Peak.  Even if you don't want to.
  • Pack a cold coffee drink in the car for the drive home, even if it's well past my normal coffee cutoff time.  
  • Sign up for 16 more miles next time.


  • Bob Shebest, the 50 mile winner, passed through Hobart on the way back while I was taking a long break to manage the annoying muscle cramp.  He was pushing hard, having multiple sponges of water dumped on his head in quick succession.
  • Yes, this is the most gorgeous course I've been on.  Sorry Marin.
  • Best aid stations and finish volunteers I've seen.  Cold smoothies at mile 24ish are awesome.

Sonora Pass

July, 2015, written later.

This isn't a race, it's not even a run, but I've been itching to start exploring the Sierras.  When I start looking for gaps in my Strava heatmap to find new places to run/explore, it's time to change things up.   

Having decided to take the very long way home from a 4th of July trip to Tahoe, we stopped at Sonora pass to have lunch and hike a short out-and-back on the PCT.  The weather was perfect, although it would snow here only a few days later.   

About where we stopped on the first climb, at 10,000 feet, and carrying a toddler.

A second climb on the south side